If you’re trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, you’re probably familiarizing yourself with materials available to use around your home and property.
For example, you might be interested in making rope with local plants or transforming wild herbs into medicines. While you’re at it, don’t forget to add coniferous tree resin to your repertoire!
Tree resin is easy to find and harvest and has many uses. Here’s what to know:
What is Tree Resin?
Unlike sap, which is a watery, sugary liquid that runs through deciduous species such as maple and birch, resin (also known as “pitch”) is a sticky, amber-like substance found in some coniferous trees.
You’ve likely encountered this before when you’ve brushed up against a pine trunk and gotten it stuck to your clothes.
This sticky substance has been used worldwide for millennia.
It’s also invaluable for various medicinal and household purposes and has been used for sacred rituals. After all, frankincense and myrrh are both created from resin, and they have a rather solid history as far as religious purposes go!
Tree resin has several medicinal properties and can be used for a wide range of health issues. Below are some of the main ways that you can incorporate it into your medicine cabinet.
1. Healing Salve
Resins from conifers in the Pinaceae family, such as pine, spruce, and fir, are invaluable in chest salves. This is because the aromatic oils act as bronchodilators. As such, they help to open up blocked airways and alleviate congestion for a wide range of chest complaints.
Even if congestion isn’t present, as with asthma attacks, these oils can ease spasms and increase oxygen intake.
Additionally, coniferous tree resins have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. As such, they can be invaluable allies in fending off wound infections.
A standard first aid salve for breathing relief, as well as cuts and scrapes, can be made with:
- 1 cup olive or coconut oil
- 1/4 cup beeswax or carnauba wax (grated or in pastille form)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white pine or balsam fir resin
Heat the oil in a crock pot on high heat until warm, then add the resin. Turn the heat to medium and steep it for 4-6 hours. Then whisk in the wax gently until everything is mixed homogeneously. Transfer to a jar or salve tin(s) and allow to cool completely.
As a bonus, this salve may alleviate arthritis pain and swelling. Simply rub the salve around painful joints and let it work its magic.
2. Sore Throat Relief
If you’re out in the wild and your throat hurts, use pine resin as a lozenge. Its antibacterial effects can help to treat inflammation or infection. Additionally, it can coat and thus soothe the sore, raw mucus membranes.
A daub of tree resin can stop a small wound from bleeding. The resin is sticky enough to help seal small cuts together, and its medicinal properties help to accelerate the healing process.
Practical Household Uses
You can use tree resin around the homestead as well! If you have conifers on your property, you should be able to harvest their resin for various purposes.
Depending on where you live, a trip to the hardware store for some glue might take several hours out of your day. In contrast, you can whip up a batch of pine pitch glue fairly quickly.
This glue is excellent for attaching DIY arrowheads to shafts and coating rawhide or sinew rope for securely binding items.
Remember that pine pitch hardens when it dries, becoming brittle and prone to snapping. If you need a more flexible glue, add wax to the mixture while it’s warm and liquid.
5. Waterproofing Sealant
The same stickiness that allows tree resin to be used as glue makes it an excellent sealant. For example, Indigenous peoples used pine pitch mixed with powdered charcoal to laminate and waterproof wooden canoes and snowshoes.
If your favorite pair of winter boots springs a leak, warm up some pine resin and work some charcoal into it. Then, while it’s still semi-liquid and malleable, use a brush to spread it into the cracks or tears.
One thing that’s incredibly important to know about tree resin is that it’s highly flammable. Furthermore, it can be pretty tricky to extinguish once lit.
The good thing about being this flammable is that you can use it to start a fire even in damp conditions. Simply twirl the driest twigs, birch bark, etc. into some sticky pitch from a nearby tree. Then toss that bad boy into some prepared kindling, and light it. Then step back, so you don’t lose your eyebrows.
Fire offers heat and light, and tree resin can also be used as lamp fuel. However, this doesn’t mean you can fill a standard oil lamp with resin. Instead, it’s more like a shallow bowl filled with a flammable substance and a wick you can light.
The closest comparison is an Inuit qulliq lamp.
Fill a stone or heavy ceramic bowl with moss, and tuck a twisted piece of cotton or linen into the center of it. This will act as the wick in your lamp. Next, pour melted pine pitch over the moss, ensuring you wet the wick.
Once lit, it should provide you with light for as long as there is pitch left to burn. You can either keep adding more or extinguish it by smothering it.
Alternatively, you can create great temporary torches with it. Grab a dry mullein stalk and pour melted tree resin over the top before lighting it.
Use Caution and Common Sense
When harvesting tree resin, please do so responsibly. This means collecting the running resin from trees that are already exuding it. Please don’t intentionally injure living trees to encourage them to bleed the resin out.
Alternatively, you can extract this resin ethically if and when you trim branches and limbs off conifers or fell them for firewood and carpentry.
Additionally, if you’re going to use this resin medicinally, ensure that you’re certain you’re harvesting from a safe species and aren’t allergic to it.
For example, although yew trees are coniferous (evergreens), every part of that tree can be lethal if consumed or allowed into an open wound. Your health and well-being is your responsibility, so please try to be as safe as possible!
When in doubt about a species, consult an arborist or botanist to help you identify it.